Nick Kyrgios: They came hoping for laughs and maybe a fight - they got a tennis match at Wimbledon instead

You could imagine a trembling All England Club finger hovering over the “Send” button for what must have seemed like an eternity. Finally, the schedule of play was released, confirmed, out there in the world. Nick Kyrgios was being let loose on Centre Court.

Nick Kyrgios lets his tennis do the talking to progress to the Wimbledon quarter-finals.
Nick Kyrgios lets his tennis do the talking to progress to the Wimbledon quarter-finals.

And if you remember TV’s The Fast Show you might have wondered if the man’s reaction mimicked that of the 13th Duke of Wybourne: “Me, the wild man of tennis, the tyrant of the tweener, the spontaneously combusting stand-up, the evil bully, playing the sacred grass, inside the mother’s womb of this great sport. Are they mad?”

Well, it was true. There he was. And there we were, waiting – panting – for him to explode a bomb. Or wee in the hydrangeas. Or at least do something – anything – to add to his notoriety as the baseline badass of SW19.

But after all the baiting, the arguing, the spitting, the swearing and the name-calling in the lead-up, what did he give us? A match. Not a bare-knuckle fight or a stand-up comedy turn but merely the tennis. Three and a bit hours’ worth. What’s wrong with the man? Did he get out of bed on the right side or something?

Why, he even spoke post-match in standard sporting cliche, about taking it one match at a time. He was generous in his praise of his opponent, America’s Brandon Nakashima, who’d pushed him hard and caused many problems in the 4-6 6-4 7-6 (7-2) 3-6 6-2 victory.

But he’s Nick Kyrgios, after all, and no other player will produce a quote, reflecting on dark days in his career, such as: “There was a time where I was having to be forced out of a pub at 4am by my agent to play [Rafael] Nadal.

“I feel like I’ve been though so much and [now] I’m able to stay more composed. Today I was almost smiling to myself on the far side, just knowing I was locked in an absolute battle, whereas in the past I wasn't able to enjoy that.”

He’s got his motivation back, and his enjoyment of tennis, which wasn’t always the case. A great team behind him and “the best girlfriend in the world” deserved credit there. “I was bouncing the ball before I served, smiling and saying to myself: ‘We're here, we're competing at Wimbledon.’ Mentally, it was a good performance.” Next up for him: Chile’s Cristian Garin.

Never in the 100-year history of the Centre Court had it been this full and this buzzy for a lunchtime contest between – sorry to his parents, but we’re talking general audience perception – an obscure 20-year-old Californian and an unseeded Australian.

But again, no offence to Nakashima, many were there for the incidentals, the noises-off, the etiquette-busters. After ten minutes of – by his rock ’n’ roll standards – incident-free tennis bordering on the tedious, Kyrgios’ first underarm serve arrived in the fourth game. But his forehand was finding the net. Even so, this didn’t spark tantrums. He didn’t request a phone and dial up No 10: “Look Boris, this constitutional monarchy thing we’ve got between our countries – I want it ended. Now.”

The first set, considering the build-up, was anticlimactic. In no time Kyrgios was serving to stay in it. The cheers for the American were huge. Either he has a huge extended family and they all had tickets or the roars were an attempt to provoke Kyrgios into a bad reaction. But there was nothing: the Aussie simply shoulder-rolled back to his chair.

In the first game of the second set he let off a couple of fireworks – not real ones, you understand, but sizzling drives suggesting the forehand was working okay. Next time on Nakashima’s serve Kyrgios broke him. There were nonchalant winners and little bits of casual magic and in the 46th-minute the first tweener. He was in the mood for fun, not murderous mayhem, and concentrating on his game, refusing to be riled by a shout of “Come on, Stefanos”, a reference to Tsitsipas, the last opponent to be – this has to be official terminology now – Kyrgios-ed. His serve was hotting up, too: 137mph. In all there were 35 aces.

Nakashima is a student of Novak Djokovic’s “super-focus” but, despite the advance billing, this match wasn’t throwing up any diabolical distractions for the player on the other side of the net from Kyrgios, who when serving for the second fooled around, showed off a bit, but eventually levelled the contest.

The third set was edgier with few chances, zero trick-shots and still no bust-ups. The umpire and his officials must have wondered if they’d turned up at the wrong court. As in the first, Kyrgios had to serve to save it. Nakashima got to 15-30 with a crosscourt drive which a ling-judge indicated was bang-on. Kyrgios stared at him – would this be the moment? – then merely shrugged. He won the game with more of that throwaway brilliance, finishing with a smash. In the tiebreak his sledgehammer serve – and two dazzling backhands – won it.

Tenaciously, Nakashima was still in the contest but wasn’t benefitting in any way from Kyrgios challenging himself or anyone else to a fight, even when he missed straightforward shots, which was happening less and less in any case. But then, a bonkers game from him, having been broken, when slovenly hits handed the set to his opponent. This was deliberate, he maintained – “rope-a-dope” to disrupt Nakashima’s rhythm. It worked, and an argument with the umpire fired up Kyrgios sufficiently for a double break and the victory.

A tennis match which just contains, er, tennis? This’ll never catch on. Some folk might have been asking for their money back but the Wizard of Oz is in the quarter-finals.


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